Vital Decomposition

Soil Practitioners and Life Politics

Vital Decomposition

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 42 illustrations, incl. 8 in color Published: April 2020

Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Latin American Studies

In Colombia, decades of social and armed conflict and the U.S.-led War on Drugs have created a seemingly untenable situation for scientists and rural communities as they attempt to care for forests and grow non-illicit crops. In Vital Decomposition Kristina M. Lyons presents an ethnography of human-soil relations. She follows state soil scientists and peasants across labs, greenhouses, forests, and farms and attends to the struggles and collaborations between farmers, agrarian movements, state officials, and scientists over the meanings of peace, productivity, rural development, and sustainability in Colombia. In particular, Lyons examines the practices and philosophies of rural farmers who value the decomposing layers of leaves that make the soils that sustain life in the Amazon and shows how the study and stewardship of the soil point to alternative frameworks for living and dying. In outlining the life-making processes that compose and decompose into soil, Lyons theorizes how life can thrive in the face of the violence, criminalization, and poisoning produced by militarized, growth-oriented development.


Vital Decomposition weaves enthralling ecopoetic writing with the finest ethnographic storytelling. Kristina M. Lyons tells us a compelling story of human-soil relations nurturing insurgent life from the very grounds of eco-social devastation. An indispensable and inspiring read for hopeful decolonial naturecultures.” — Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, author of Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More than Human Worlds


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kristina M. Lyons is Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Table of Contents Forthcoming
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Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0816-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0769-2
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